March 2019

Written by WISDOM on . Posted in Newsletters

Calendar for WISDOM and Other Interfaith Events 
 

Sunday, March 3rd 4:00 PM – 6:00 PM
The 20th Annual World Sabbath
Islamic House of WISDOM, Dearborn Heights
See Flyer Below
Thursday, March 7th, 7:00 PM Glazer Institute at Temple Beth El, See Flyer Below.
 
Tuesday, March 12th, between noon and 1:30 PM
Five Women Five Journeys at Oakland University – Oakland Center, Founders Ballroom D
Contact Paula Drewek for more information. drewekpau@aol.com 
Thursday, March 14th 7:00 – 9:00 PM at Temple Israel, 5725 Walnut Lake Road, West Bloomfield 48323
Interfaith panel on attracting our young adult population
to their faith traditions!
See Flyer Below
Sunday, March 24th, 2019 (afternoon)
Celebration of International Women’s Day
See information below
Wednesday, April 3rd Beth Shalom Passover Seder
See Flyer below
Sunday, April 7th, 12:30 PM to 1:30 PM
WISDOM Women Tell Their Stories at the Hadassah Retreat
Stay Tuned for More information

News from Congregation Beth Shalom
14601 W. Lincoln Drive
Oak Park, MI 48237
(248) 547-7970   cbs@congbethshalom.org
                              
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
For information: Bobbie Lewis, (248) 842-5535, blewis14140@gmail.com
Beth Shalom Schedules Annual Women’s Seder
Congregation Beth Shalom in Oak Park will hold its annual Women’s Seder on Wednesday, April 3 at 6 p.m.
Women of all faiths are invited to the event at the synagogue, 14601 Lincoln in Oak Park. The program includes a kosher, Passover-style dinner. Vegetarian meals are available upon request.
Aviva Phillips, a Beth Shalom member, will lead the program, and Pamela Schiffer, cantor emerita of Congregation Shaarey Zedek in East Lansing, will lead the singing. The program will celebrate women’s contributions to the Exodus from Egypt and throughout Jewish history. Participants will follow The Journey Continues: The Ma’yan Passover Haggadah by Tamara R. Cohen.
Linda Bell chairs the Women’s Seder committee. Working with her are Nathalie Conrad, Mandy Garver, Sherri Gelb, Fran Hildebrandt, Shelia Levine, Aviva Phillips, Marie Slotnick and Gretchen Weiner.
Reservations are $30 for adults and $10 for girls 5 to 12. “Angel” sponsorships are welcome at $54 and “Benefactor” sponsorships are $72. Anonymous sponsorships for guests at $30 are also welcome.
Paid reservations must be made by March 29. Mail checks to Congregation Beth Shalom, 14601 Lincoln, Oak Park. For more information or reservations, call the synagogue office at (248) 547-7970 or email cbs@congbethshalom.org .

                                  

The American Dream is alive and well in this memoir of a Muslim immigrant from India who arrived planning to start a business, working so hard toward his personal goals that he even pumped gas and sold vacuum cleaners door to door. Victor Begg successfully built a thriving, regional chain of furniture stores. Along the way, he discovered that America’s greatest promise lies in building healthy communities with our neighbors.
“In one book, I have come to understand much more about Islam, its followers and its teachings,” Rabbi Bruce Benson writes in the book’s Foreword. “I’ve come to realize that the challenges Muslim immigrants have faced are similar to what Jews and many other immigrant groups have experienced as they tried to settle in America. By the end of this book, I hurt with Victor and I laugh with him, because–as Americans–we share so much. We are him. His journey is our journey. This is our story.”
As Victor reached out to others, he used his entrepreneurial skills to co-found a new kind of ethnically diverse mosque as well as influential nonprofits designed to help others. Agreeing to serve as a regional spokesperson for Muslims, he got more than he bargained for–responding to tragedies that included 9/11 and a massacre in a Florida nightclub.
“Person by person, friend by friend, good-hearted people change the world,” Victor writes in this memoir. His greatest talents turned out to be his ongoing ability to invite all of us to open our hearts, roll up our sleeves and reach out to help each other.
“We need stories of our Muslim neighbors like Victor Begg to break down the walls that separate us and to educate us about those who might seem so strange, at first, but might become heart friends if given the chance,” writes the Rev. Daniel L. Buttry in the book’s Preface. “Along the way, we might discover some true American heroes. Victor is just such a hero: selfless, ordinary, but willing to risk to make our nation and our world a better place.”
In this era when media outlets echo with extremist claims demonizing immigrants and Muslims, in particular, readers will discover how much American families share in our diversity of faiths and ethnicities.
“A lot of foggy information clouds the American brain concerning Muslims. Victor’s representative story, his steady, 40-year love affair with America, blows much of it away,” writes Michael Wolfe, a filmmaker and author of One Thousand Roads to Mecca.
“This book’s importance really is global, considering how often migrants, refugees and Muslims in particular are demonized by extremists around the world,” writes Larbi Mageri, a Muslim journalist based in Algeria who is a co-founder of the International Association of Religion Journalists. “One of the biggest challenges for Muslims who have never visited the U.S. is getting a clear sense of how Muslims live there in these turbulent times. There are so many conflicting claims and stories about life in the U.S. Through reading Victor’s true stories, I was able to experience American life for Muslims–without ever leaving my home. The lasting impression I am left with, after reading Victor’s memoir, is that anyone would be lucky to have a Muslim neighbor like this living next door.”
Ultimately, Victor invites readers to pray with him: “God bless America.” As you follow him along this remarkable journey, as you catch his vision of a vibrant America–you are likely to find your own family and your own values mirrored in his story. You’re likely to want to share this book with friends and join in building a better world.

An interfaith group finds willing partners to restore a shared watershed
                            by Yonat ShimronReligion News Service
 
On a chilly fall day several weeks ago, volunteers from five Maryland congregations came together in the Cherry Hill neighborhood of Baltimore to plant 90 trees.  

The planting was unique for two reasons: It drew a team of Catholics, Baptists, Presbyterians and Conservative Jews. And in the space of three hours, they managed to get all the saplings into the ground and hold an interfaith service, too.
 “It was a very effective and powerful experience,” said McKay Jenkins, a member of Baltimore’s Brown Memorial Park Avenue Presbyterian Church and one of the volunteers at the planting. “This is not something a couple of do-gooders at one church can do.”
That multiplier effect is the idea behind Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake, a 5-year-old nonprofit organization that brought together the five congregations to plant Cherry Hill’s trees. Elsewhere in the vast Chesapeake Bay watershed, which extends from western New York State into central Virginia, the group has gathered volunteers, often across the religious spectrum, to work on restoration projects, ripping up pavement, installing water gardens and, yes, planting trees.
Its work recently landed Interfaith Partners a $1 million grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. The money is intended to educate an additional 100 congregations about stormwater management and help 36 of those worship communities install green infrastructure on their properties to lessen the flow of pollutants into the bay.
Interfaith Partners already works with Protestant and Catholic churches, Jewish synagogues and Buddhist temples, mostly in Maryland, but the group hopes to expand into Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, about 50 miles above the point where the Susquehanna River, freighted with runoff from farms and paved surfaces, spills into the Chesapeake Bay.
At a time when many congregations are divided between urban and rural, liberal and conservative, rich and poor, black and white, the nonprofit, based in Annapolis, Maryland, is finding it can bring people of faith together around a common core: a shared watershed.
“We want to ignore man-made boundaries and see the God-made boundaries that unite us, like a watershed,” said Jodi Rose, executive director of Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake. “We have a responsibility to take care of these shared resources.”
The new grant will not actually award churches money for green projects. It will instead allow Interfaith Partners to reach more congregations and offer them more significant ways to clean up waterways. In some cases, it will also pay for technical assistance and design of those remediation projects from partner groups such as Blue Water Baltimore and Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay.
“We see our role as helping congregations graduate beyond changing lightbulbs and hosting recycling days and move into high-impact work that serves as a demonstration for the whole community,” said Rose.
Memorial Episcopal Church in Baltimore, for example, expanded a tree-lined area on its property so that rainwater is now captured and filtered in tree pits rather than going into the municipal stormwater sewer system. With a $3,000 grant from Baltimore Gas and Electric, the church was able to rip up 1,200 square feet of sidewalk and enlarge the area around the trees by 36 percent.
Thirty children from area schools then completed the project by amending the soil around the trees with leaf compost, earthworms and mulch. In the process, they learned about trees and their role in a healthy ecosystem. The church has since worked on numerous other projects, including building a pollinator microhabitat and outdoor classroom at a local public school. “We consider ourselves a green church and we’re proud of that,” said Dick Williams, a church member and a consultant on sustainable building certification, who led the project. “We wish to do more.”
Williams said Interfaith Partners helped educate church members on the dangers impervious surfaces pose for the health of waterways. It also identified potential grantors to fund the proposed work.
That kind of assistance is key, said Rosemary Flickinger, volunteer garden manager for the Kadampa Meditation Center of Maryland.
When the Kadampa Center moved into its new building in northern Baltimore, it had recurring flooding in its parking lot after heavy rainstorms. The temple’s leadership asked Flickinger to look into possible grants to do some remediation work.
“I discovered the Chesapeake Bay Trust had a grant that was available,” said Flickinger. “But I’d never written a grant before. Interfaith Partners said: ‘Don’t worry about it. We’ll help you.’ “
The temple was able to secure a $30,000 grant (with a matching $30,000 in labor) to install three rain gardens. It has since added a rooftop cistern.
Interfaith Partners is now expanding its work in rural areas, such as Wicomico County on the eastern shore of Maryland. The region, which is heavily agricultural and vulnerable to sea rise, recently formed a core group of a dozen religious congregations, including a mosque and a Baha’i temple, to work together on environmental projects. The Wicomico Interfaith Partners for Creation Stewardship has not only planted trees and cleaned up streams, its members have built community and camaraderie. “Folks here see the importance of taking care of the land,” said Matthew Heim, a volunteer organizer for the group. “That brings a lot of people to the table.”
RNS-Interfaith-Water3-121818.jpg

A Baltimore Gas and Electric crewman works with elementary and middle school students from the Bolton Hill area on a community greening project around Memorial Episcopal Church on Oct. 6, 2017, in Baltimore. The project expanded tree pits and improved stormwater mitigation practices. (Photo courtesy of Dick Williams)
The challenge now is to get megachurches with huge facilities and massive parking lots on board. “We’re going to continue trying,” said Heim. Interfaith Partners has also forged a good working relationship with the city of Baltimore. “We’re limited in what we can do on private property,” said Mark Cameron, who works on watershed planning and partnerships in Baltimore’s Department of Public Works. “That’s where IPC comes in. They’re helpful in expanding the reach of what we’re able to do and helping people understand it’s not just the city’s role to have cleaner neighborhoods, cleaner waterways and a cleaner bay.”
Jenkins, the church volunteer who helped plant the trees last month, is also a professor of environmental humanities at the University of Delaware. But he said he’s especially proud of the way his Presbyterian church has stepped up its game on the environment, in part because of Interfaith Partners, where he now serves on the board.
“Environmental activity is part of our MO,” said Jenkins. “It’s not quirky or eccentric or on the periphery. It’s central to what we do.”

West Bloomfield Synagogue’s Bible Garden Welcomes Visitors and Tour Groups

The Louis and Fay Woll Memorial Bible Garden, located at 5075 West Maple Road, West Bloomfield, on the campus of Congregation Beth Ahm, will soon be in full spring bloom, and people of all faiths are welcome to visit for learning and reflection. The Garden is available for group tours as well as for informal individual visitation. Group tours can be arranged to take place any day of the week with the exception of Shabbat (Saturday). The Garden is open in the summer, fall and spring, from sunrise to sunset.

Bible gardens usually contain plants mentioned in the Bible or use plants to recreate themes from the Bible. The Louis and Fay Woll Memorial Bible Garden does both and serves many purposes. It is meant to serve as a place of inner reflection, as a place of education, as a place for social and community gatherings, as a place to celebrate special things in our lives, and as a place to understand and appreciate the beauty and continuity of nature and its connection to the Jewish people and to the Divine.

There are a number of Bible gardens in various locations around the United States, but the Louis and Fay Memorial Bible Garden is believed to be the only one in Michigan and is one of very few in the world that are sponsored by a synagogue. Almost all other Bible gardens to date have been created by Christian houses of worship.

The Louis and Fay Woll Memorial Bible Garden was created by Drs. Douglas and Margo Woll in 2010 to honor the memory of Doug’s parents, who believed in and exemplified the principles of goodness, caring and generosity. The Bible Garden was designed by Gary Roberts of Great Oaks Landscaping and features ceramic artwork by Carol Roberts of Tucson, AZ.
If your group would like to tour the garden with a synagogue docent and also have the opportunity to visit the Beth Ahm sanctuary and learn more about Judaism, please contact Rabbi Steven Rubenstein by phone (248) 851-6880 ext. 17 or by e-mail ravsteven@cbahm.org to schedule your visit.
There is no charge to visit the Woll Memorial Bible Garden, either on an individual basis or for group tours. Donations are welcome to help support the ongoing maintenance and enhancement of the Bible Garden.
All are welcome to find enjoyment, beauty and peaceful reflection in the experience of exploring the Louis and Fay Memorial Bible Garden in person or online. For more information, including photos of the Garden, visit http://www.wollbiblegarden.org/ or http://www.cbahm.org/woll-bible-garden
Congregation Beth Ahm
5075 West Maple Road, West Bloomfield MI 48322

For more info contact: Rabbi Steven Rubenstein (248) 851-6880 ext. 17
 or e-mail ravsteven@cbahm.org

Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar embody
a new era for Muslim women
By Rafia Zakaria

                                    Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib
As a Muslim-American woman living in what feels like, based on growing hate crimes and bigoted political rhetoric, an increasingly Islamophobic America, I get few chances to feel victorious and hopeful. But this Thursday promises just that. On January 3, 2019, not one but two Muslim American women were sworn into Congress. Taking the oath on a Quran that belonged to Thomas Jefferson, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib became the first Muslim-American women to serve in the House of Representatives.
Their swearing in will be a historic milestone for the country, but it will be so much more than that for me. A black Somali-American woman who wears a headscarf and pokes fun at Islamophobes on Twitter, Omar crushes stereotypes of what a Muslim woman in a headscarf represents. As an unveiled Muslim American woman, Rashida Tlaib — who will wear a Palestinian gown to her swearing in — also dismantles the myth that all “real” Muslim women wear the headscarf.
In the faces and politics of the two women, I see a welcome challenge to Muslim orthodoxy and American stereotypes, and a huge win for Muslim feminism.
At different times in my life, I have worn and not worn a headscarf, thus straddling one of the most polemical debates within Islam. Literal and decontextualized translations of the Quran, most of them produced by men, have long held that the “hijab,” or headscarf, is a requirement for all Muslim women. Many Muslim feminists, such as Fatima MernissI, have unraveled this premise by contextualizing the verses used to insist on the prescription, and exposing the varied meanings of the word “hijab.”
In real life, this complicated issue often prompts heated debates among Muslim women who fall on either side of the debate. In high school, when I wore the headscarf, I hotly insisted on its necessity as an article of faith. A decade later, I argued, as Mernissi does, that the women who wore it were inadequately feminist, living out a patriarchal prescription that had been read into the Quran. I won many arguments, but I lost even more friends. Today, after writing a book on the subject, I realize how wrong I was in both cases, in insisting that everyone or no one should choose the veil.
This realization is precisely why I feel so triumphant about Omar and Tlaib’s elections. With both a veiled and unveiled woman representing the face of American Islam in the US Congress, the garment can finally emerge as a facet of individual choice available to Muslim women, rather than a divine or even a political mandate. In this way, the emergence of Omar and Tlaib, two outspoken Muslim American women (Tlaib literally disrupted a Trump rally in 2016) who respect each other’s choices and stand together, bridges a schism that has divided Muslim women all over the world.
In a riven America, however, the task of bridging rifts will be harder. Even before the Trump era ushered in increased marginalization and targeting of Muslims, many Americans viewed Islam with suspicion. Since 9/11, the equation of “Muslim” with “terrorist” has become routine, rarely even remarked upon.
In this milieu, Muslim women who wear the headscarf have become hyper-visible, too often walking targets for ignorance and hate. A teachers’ pulling a student’s headscarf in Virginia, policemen forcing its removal in New York, a man pulling off a woman’s headscarf during a flight, a woman threatened on a public bus and many similarly alarming incidents have occurred and will likely recur. The election of Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib will not magically eliminate the prejudice and fear behind these attacks, but it will provide more Americans with Muslim American public figures who challenge their stereotypes and misplaced hatreds. The twin rookie congresswomen, with their very existence, poke holes at the idea that only unveiled Muslim American women are suitably assimilated (read: safe) or that all veiled ladies are pathetically submissive or latent terrorists.
Stereotypes die when those whose stories contradict them become the focus of public attention. This January 3 will be the beginning of this journey for both Americans and for veiled and unveiled Muslim women all around the world. In Ilhan Omar, they will see a black woman who wears a headscarf and who is a committed progressive. In Rashida Tlaib, they will see a brown woman who, like most Muslim-American women, chooses not wear a headscarf but remains committed to her faith and to advancing the cause of the working-class families like her own. In both Omar and Tlaib lives a vision of a new American heroine, of American exceptionalism realized in the trajectory of two women, brown and black, veiled and unveiled, Muslim and American. Ultimately, it is this very “only in America” quality of these two congresswomen — one who has risen from her refugee camp origins and the other who has overcome a childhood of hardship and penury — that will likely endear them to Americans.
After what seems too long, Muslim Americans and all Americans can be proud of a country that has made these two women possible.

A Sikh warrior blows fire, a traditional skill of martial art, during a procession celebrating the birthday of Guru Gobind Singh in Jammu, India, on Jan. 3, 2019. The birth anniversary of Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Sikh guru, is marked on Jan. 5. (AP Photo/Channi Anand)

Women take a pledge to fight gender discrimination as they form part of a hundreds of miles long “women’s wall” in Thiruvananthapuram, in the southern Indian state of Kerala, on Jan. 1, 2019. An estimated 5 million women participated in making the wall, which is believed to be the largest ever demonstration for gender equality. The women were demanding an end to violence against women trying to enter Kerala’s Sabarimala temple. A recent ruling from India’s top court allowed the entrance of women of menstruating age at the Sabarimala temple, one of the world’s largest Hindu pilgrimage sites, causing mass demonstrations against the ruling. (AP Photo/R.S. Iyer)

Finding Faith: Interfaith Café offers
safe place to discuss beliefs
By Janis Fontaine
Most people, at one time or another, ponder the big questions: Why am I here? What’s my purpose? Is there one God, many gods or no god at all? What happens when I die? Is there a heaven? Are there dogs there?
Even people who are deeply committed to their faith have questions and, sometimes, doubts. Faith almost demands you have doubts in its very definition: belief in the absence of proof.  For many, these ruminations take place in our heads.  But a group of deep thinkers has a safe place to discuss hard questions. It’s called the Interfaith Café and it’s a free program offered by the Interfaith Coalition. All are welcome.  The Interfaith Café meets monthly at the South County Civic Center on Jog Road -neutral ground.
“We used to meet at a different church every week, but the Civic Center seemed to work better,” Jane Faysash said. She is one of the original members and she represents the Buddhist faith.  Linda Prior, who finds speakers and organizes the programs each month, is a Christian. Other members represent the Mormon, Jewish, Catholic, Muslim and Baha’i faiths. Some call themselves spiritual, some agnostic and others label themselves as atheist.  But in the café, those labels melt away to reveal our common humanity: love, pain, forgiveness, shame, gratitude. Topics are more philosophical than theological, and meetings are civil and respectful.
Most meetings attract between 30 and 50 people with open minds, which keeps discussions from dissolving into arguments.  People with literalist views or rigid thoughts will not enjoy the café. “We connect on a deep personal level,” Faysash said. “We can be open here.”  Prior, whose home church is First Presbyterian in Delray Beach, cares deeply about people who have no attachment to a church or a religion or even a belief system. She has seen the discussions at the café change people.
She knows that the universal desire to congregate comes from our longing for community, connectedness, to be a part of something greater, to belong somewhere. Feeling isolated and alone and excluded is a touchstone for disaster.
Musician Cecilia St. King will speak and perform at the Jan. 17 meeting. She knows a little bit about disasters.  She was in New York City during the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Instead of leaving town, she stayed and performed for the firefighters, construction workers and search and rescue personnel. She wanted to lift them up, and she would do it again.
But it came with a steep price: throat cancer, possibly from breathing the poisonous air around the site.  St. King will perform on guitar her signature blend of American roots music, rock, blues, folk and spirituals (and a grain of jazz) to express the Tao’s ageless wisdom teachings in song.  She has traveled the world as a performer, but she settled down in Delray Beach recently.  She has been quick to lend her support where needed. She performed and counseled children after the Parkland mass shootings and raised $15,000 for students to go to the March on Washington. She sang at a vigil for gun control in Delray Beach and performed at the “Together We Remember” vigil for Holocaust remembrance in Boca Raton.
For more info, visit meetup.com/Interfaith-Cafe.

‘Vacationing’ to reconnect with
India’s Zoroastrian culture
A Parsi man offers prayers at a bas-relief of ancient priests at a fire temple on Navroze, the Parsi New Year, in Mumbai, India, on Aug. 17, 2018. Parsis, also known as Zoroastrians, worship fire and are followers of the Bronze Age Persian prophet Zarathustra. (AP Photo/Rajanish Kakade)
MUMBAI, India (RNS) – Farzad Irani, a physical therapist born and raised in New York, tucked into a plate of mutton dhansak and egg chutney pattice, happily reacquainting himself with Parsi cuisine as part of a 15-day trip through western India intended to stir up his connections to his ethnic and religious identity as a Zoroastrian. Irani had last visited Mumbai as a 12-year-old, when he’d undergone his navjote, the traditional Zoroastrian initiation ceremony. This time he’d returned with Return to Roots, an organization that hopes to connect young Parsi and Irani Zoroastrians to their heritage, partly in hopes of reviving a community that once thrived in and around India’s largest city.
“I thought it could be cool,” said Irani over lunch after a visit to the Dadar Athornan Institute, where Parsi priests are trained. “It would be different from my normal vacations. I wanted something more spiritual, more educational, to learn where we came from.”
According to legend, Zoroastrians arrived by boat on India’s west coast between the 8th and 10th centuries, fleeing religious persecution in Persia. They found refuge, quickly integrating with the local population by adopting the Gujarati language and local customs, while steadfastly hanging onto their religious beliefs. That first wave became known as Parsis; a second wave, arriving in the 19th century, became another subset called Iranis. Since then, they have flourished as a successful, well-educated minority, producing some of India’s most prominent merchants, lawyers and doctors.
But with later and fewer marriages and lower fertility rates, Parsi and Irani numbers have fallen in the past three decennial Indian censuses – just 57,264 in 2011, compared to 100,772 in 1961 – prompting fears that the proud minority may soon disappear. It’s estimated that there are as many as 40,000 Zoroastrians living outside India. Inspired by Birthright Israel, a 20-year-old organization that brings diaspora Jewish youngsters to the Holy Land, Return to Roots is designed to help young Zoroastrians fortify connections and engage more deeply with the endangered culture.
“We thought, ‘Why don’t we have something for Zoroastrians?'” asked Arzan Sam Wadia, Return to Roots’ program director. “How do we create a whole package of experiences that touches everything from history and culture to food and entrepreneurship and meeting their peers?”
Return to Roots’ two-week tours include meeting priests, homes and restaurants, worshipping at local fire temples, checking out heritage and culture, and exploring contemporary debates within the community.
Irani, 29, who was raised Zoroastrian, met fellow believers during the Zoroastrian Youth Congress, held every four years in locations around the globe, or the biennial Zoroastrian Games. “Winning gold medals is one thing,” he said, chuckling. “Learning this stuff is another.”
Karl Raghina, sitting across the table, was also familiar with the basic contours of his faith, but growing up in California largely severed him from the community. “It’s nice to see things we have heard about,” said Raghina, 35, an engineer from San Diego.
Return to Roots fellows must be between 22 and 35 years old and are selected based on an application. Unlike Birthright Israel, which is partly government-funded and completely free, Return to Roots depends entirely on private donations. The cost of the trip for the fellows is about $1,000 plus airfare. So far five trips have brought 81 young people from at least eight different countries, including the U.S., U.K. and United Arab Emirates.
“It brings a renewed sense of being Zoroastrian and what that means,” said Wadia, who lives in New York. “The aim is to provide the tools for what it means to be Zoroastrian. If people don’t live in India and soak those things up by osmosis, sometimes they don’t know them.”
Kayras Irani, a 32-year-old Canadian who now lives in New Zealand, was on his fourth tour, his third as one of five volunteers organizing the trip. He grew up going to a Zoroastrian fire temple and taking religion classes but, he said, “I connect at a deeper level each time.”
The Return to Roots tours generally begin in Mumbai, where the largest numbers of Zoroastrians still live, and visit Udvada, where the Parsi refugees first settled, and Navsari, home to rural Parsi communities.
The organizers hope the itinerary eventually will extend to Iran, where Zoroastrianism, considered the oldest monotheistic religion, originated 4,000 years ago. For now, the antagonism between the United States and Iran puts the country off limits for most American participants.
“It gave me greater self-confidence and enlarged my outlook on my religion and culture,” said Cyrus Karanjia, 23, a freelance graphic designer from Karachi, Pakistan, home to some 1,400 Zoroastrians. “It changed my understanding toward my identity.” If Parsis are a minuscule minority even in India, that sense of being set apart is amplified abroad, where there may not be other Parsi families, let alone fire temples.
“I felt disconnected,” said Ava Damri, 32, who lived in Auckland before moving to Dallas. As a teenager, Damri stopped wearing the sacred thread and vest that believers receive on their initiation. By the third day of the trips, she was already reconsidering as she got a better understanding of the rituals.
“I used to be very proud to say I am a Zoroastrian,” said Damri, “but I could not give more than surface-level answers about it.” The firsthand knowledge also helps others understand their faith. “We are always a minority, but we need to have a knowledge of our own culture before we can educate others,” said Karanjia. “I improved my understanding of my own background, so I can answer questions about it better.”
Return to Roots also stresses an urgency about sustaining the Parsi and Irani populations. One evening, the group attended a talk where the tour leaders talked about an 18 percent drop in the Indian Zoroastrian population between 2001 and 2011. A government program launched in 2013 offers financial assistance for less well-off couples who want a child, under which 172 babies have been born so far. This month new incentives, such as a senior citizen honorarium for child care and creche and child support, were launched.
Some more liberal Zoroastrians are skeptical of such measures, calling the government’s help a myopic scheme that reduces women to baby-makers. They advocate for reforms that would allow the children of Parsi women who marry outsiders to be accepted, as the children of Parsi men married to non-Parsis already are. Though its advertisements exhort people to marry young and within the community, Return to Roots doesn’t play matchmaker among its participants and Wadia says the discussions are intended to be informative, not evangelical. “No topic is taboo,” he said. “They may or may not agree with [some things] but at least they understand [what is happening].”
Still, if romance blooms during the fortnight, no one would complain. Past trips have yielded a few couples. “When you get young people to meet in an organic setting … ,” said Damri, laughing as she trailed off.

Hindu holy men participate in rituals that are believed to rid them of all ties to this life and dedicate themselves to serving God as a ‘Naga’ or naked holy man, at Sangam, the confluence of the Ganges and Yamuna River during the Kumbh festival in Prayagraj, India, on Feb. 1, 2019. The significance of nakedness is that they will not have any worldly ties to material belongings, not even something as simple as clothing. This ritual that transforms selected holy men to Naga can only be done at the Kumbh festival. (AP Photo/ Rajesh Kumar Singh)

Young Balinese paint themselves in preparation for the Hindu ritual called “Grebeg” at the Tegalalang village in Bali, Indonesia, on Jan. 30, 2019. In the biannual ritual, young participants paint their bodies and parade around their village to ward off evil spirits. (AP Photo/Firdia Lisnawati)

The Phoenix Sikh community donated $11,000 in gas and grocery-store gift cards to TSA workers on Wednesday following the government shutdown. TSA workers had been working for days without a paycheck until this past week. The community wanted to thank the agents for working throughout the shutdown tirelessly and volunteering their efforts to protect our country. Thanks and congratulations to the Phoenix Sikh community for displaying leadership, helping those in need and embodying the Sikh spirit of seva (selfless service)!

The evolving Baha’i perspective on interfaith dialogue

OSLO, Norway, 17 January 2019, (BWNS) – Recent international interfaith gatherings highlight a growing awareness in the world. Many social actors are seeing in interreligious dialogue a new potential to channel the constructive powers of faith for the betterment of society.
“If we all have humility instead of insisting on the exclusivity of our own perspectives, then we begin to learn from each other,” says Britt Strandlie Thoresen, who heads Norway’s national interfaith organization. As a Baha’i, her commitment to interreligious dialogue springs from a belief in the power of fellowship to foster unity. “We are striving to find a common path together-a path to building a better world with each other.”
Today, the interfaith movement can reflect on more than a century of experience cultivating dialogue between people of different faiths. At the end of the 19th century, the burgeoning movement seemed to hold great promise for ushering in a recognition of the oneness of religion. The 20th century painted a very different picture. Two world wars, a seemingly intractable rise of sectarian violence, religious fundamentalism, and radicalization have left many disenchanted with religion and wary of the value of the movement.
The interfaith movement, however, has made impressive contributions toward promoting unity among the world’s religious communities. Increasingly, people are conscious of how the movement can go even further in helping humanity to attain higher degrees of unity in addressing its most weighty challenges.
For Baha’is, a century of participation in interfaith activities worldwide has sparked a deep reflection in recent years. What is the potential of the spaces opened up in the name of interfaith dialogue? What are its aims and hopes today? How can we participate in a discourse that draws on the insights of religion but goes further to explore their relevance to a world in disarray?
“One way of looking at religion is as a phenomenon that transcends any one faith or sect,” explains Venus Khalessi, who represented the Baha’i community at the G20 Interfaith Forum in Buenos Aires, Argentina, last September. One of the aims of participation in interfaith dialogue, she explains, is to draw out universal principles and learn from each other’s experiences applying them. The point is to work toward a more peaceful and just world. “In this sense, religion can be seen as a system of knowledge and practice that is evolving and offers insights and values that can help society advance.”
The view that religion has a vital and constructive role to play in the life of humanity was shared by representatives of many religious groups at the G20 Forum. The conference’s concept paper describes religion’s prominent role in many societal issues.
“Acknowledged or unacknowledged, around the world religion addresses the challenging problems societies and nations face as well as broader societal well-being,” the paper states. “Without the investment of time and resources that religiously-motivated organizations and individuals provide, the United Nations’ SDG (Sustainable Development Goals) are unattainable.”
In November, more than 8,000 people from around the world gathered in Toronto, Canada, for the Parliament of the World’s Religions, another major forum for the global interfaith movement. Baha’is organized sessions on relevant themes such as the empowerment of youth, the relationship between religion and citizenship, the principle of oneness, the equality of women and men, race unity, and more. In all, more than 60 presentations were offered by Baha’is, often in collaboration with people of different faiths.
Mrs. Thoresen sees great value in continuing to invest time in interfaith activities. “We are learning step by step. We are learning to listen, reflect, and communicate with one another in a way that builds common understanding.”
“In this setting, it is important not to dwell on differences but to try to build on what we all have in common, and that is a lot actually,” she continues. The Council for Religious and Life Stance Communities in Norway, which Mrs. Thoresen chairs, not only holds regular interfaith gatherings in Oslo but also promotes interreligious dialogue in local communities throughout the country.
Interfaith activities vary widely. Some groups primarily seek fellowship; others are oriented toward social change. Since Tunisia’s 2011 revolution, for example, the country has been increasingly conscious of its religious diversity and has been seeking to cultivate a pluralistic society. Interfaith dialogue has played a critical role in building a common vision for the future. And more broadly in the Arab region, the United Nations Development Programme organized a conference in December, bringing together religious representatives, including Baha’is, for a review of how faith communities are enhancing social cohesion and tolerance.

Pope: Respect, dialogue key for peace between Christians, Muslims
from the National Catholic Reporter
Vatican City – Pope Francis said his recent visit to the United Arab Emirates, while brief, was a new page in relations between Christians and Muslims at a time when conflict and violence threaten the goal of lasting peace. Recalling his Feb. 3-5 visit to Abu Dhabi, the pope said during his weekly general audience Feb. 6 that the joint document signed by him and Egyptian Sheik Ahmad el-Tayeb, the grand imam of al-Azhar and chair of the Muslim Council of Elders, was a step forward in promoting dialogue and brotherhood.
“In an age like ours, in which there is a strong temptation to see a clash between Christian and Islamic civilizations taking place, and also to consider religions as sources of conflict, we wanted to give another clear and decisive sign that, on the contrary, it is possible to meet, respect and dialogue with each other, and that, despite the diversity of cultures and traditions, the Christian and Islamic worlds appreciate and protect common values: life, the family, religious belief, honor for the elderly, the education of young people and much more,” the pope said.
Arriving at the Paul VI audience hall, the pope was in good spirits despite recently returning from the quick two-day visit. A group of pilgrims from Paraguay was the first to greet him, offering him “chipa,” a cheese-flavored breakfast snack from their country.
The pope snacked on the treat while greeting them. He later washed it down with some mate tea offered to him by an Argentine pilgrim attending the audience. In his talk, the pope reflected on the historic nature of his visit, which was the first time a pope visited the Arabian Peninsula. He also noted that 800 years after St. Francis of Assisi’s visit to Sultan al-Malik al-Kamil, providence wanted “a pope named Francis” to fulfill this visit.
“I often thought of St. Francis during this visit,” the pope said. “He helped me to keep in my heart the Gospel, the love of Jesus Christ, while I lived the various moments of the visit.”
Among the prayers he kept in his heart, he added, were the “victims of injustices, wars, and misery” as well as “the prayer that the dialogue between Christianity and Islam be a decisive factor for peace in the world today.” After expressing his gratitude to Abu Dhabi’s crown prince, Sheik Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan and the country’s authorities for their welcome, the pope thanked the Catholic community “who animate the Christian presence in that land.” Departing from his prepared remarks, the pope recalled meeting the first priest to arrive in Abu Dhabi and who “founded so many communities there.”
At 90 years old, he said, the priest “is in a wheelchair, blind, but his smile never falls from his lips, a smile of having served the Lord, of having done good.” This visit, Francis said, “belongs to God’s ‘surprises.’ Let us praise him and his providence, and let us pray that the seeds sown may bear fruit according to his holy will.”

We extend our condolences and sadness over the sudden death of Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, the Founder and President of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. Rabbi Eckstein was a passionate supporter of building bridges of understanding between the Christian and Jewish communities, and was particularly focused on addressing issues of social injustice in Israel, which included assisting Holocaust survivors, orphans, soldiers and families in need. He was also integral in creating programs that transported Jews in the Diaspora, particularly from Africa, to Israel. His organization sponsored multiple trips to Israel for the African-American community, in which numerous people from the Detroit community participated.

Rabbi Eckstein, 67, was a good friend to a number of clergy in Detroit, including Executive Committee members Rev. Deedee M. Coleman, Rev. Kenneth J. Flowers and Dr. Glenn R. Plummer. Several years ago, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Detroit, Rabbi Eckstein participated in a program at Rev. Coleman’s church, Russell Street Missionary Baptist Church.

His voice, his leadership and his commitment to Israel and the solidarity between Christians and Jews will be forever cherished. He was truly a giant of a man and those that knew him will miss his warm smile and beautiful heart.

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To Empower women to take a more active role in furthering social justice and world peace.
To Dispel myths, stereotypes, prejudices and fear about faith traditions different from our own.
To Nurture the growth of empathy and spiritual energy that result from our projects and interfaith dialogue.

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